I’m stupid to take the short cut behind the station, going home from school. It just makes me think of Sizwe and everything that happened yesterday, how close we were, and then how far apart. But I don’t want to have to walk past Leleka’s house.
I can hear a train coming in. Maybe that’s why it happens. Whatever, I don’t think anything much about a rush of people coming up behind me, their sound almost drowned by the noise from the train.
I’ve passed the end of the station, walking in line with the railway a few metres away, and still I don’t think anything until someone pushes me hard in the middle of my back.
I go sprawling on to my knees as a high voice says, “Thanks for choosing the place for us, slut.”
Tumiso Thwala. I look up, and they’re all around me. Her and Bonang and the whole pack of their girlfriends. I’m not sure how many there are.
Bonang spits at me. “You set my brother and Sizwe against each other, fototo.”
“We’re going to teach you a lesson.” Tumiso sounds excited. Then it’s like they’re insects swarming over me. I’m being hit and pushed from all sides, but mostly I’m being kicked. The kicks hurt most. Some of the girls are still in their solid school shoes. Others have changed into heels that bruise and pierce.
A kick in the ribs makes me cry out. I struggle to get up, trying to use my hands and arms to protect my head and face from those of the girls using their fists, punching me over and over.
Ugly words whirl round me together with the kicks and blows. I’m confused, still too shocked to think. Another kick to the stomach makes me fall forward in a kneeling crouch, my arms flying to cross themselves over this new hurt.
It leaves my head exposed.
“Please stop,” I beg.
“We warned you!” someone shouts.
I can’t believe this is happening, that it’s girls doing this to me. I’ve been afraid of all the wrong things. It’s these girls – they’re going to kill me.
“Don’t,” I gasp.
I try again to get up, but another vicious kick knocks me over. The ground is covered in grit and small loose stones. My forehead smashes against something sharp.
A swarm. Swarming. I’m dizzy and can’t think properly. The roar and clatter of a train coming out of the station drowns out the girls’ shrieking abuse and my cries of pain and pleas for them to stop.
New terror grips me. I’m so weak now. What if they throw me on to the railway line?
My fingers try to bite, to dig into the hard ground so I can raise myself, but I can only lift my pounding head. Blood runs down into my eyes. Through it, I see the train passing.
It’s so close its stink and sound become part of my nightmare. I see a figure between two carriages. Another gap, another figure. Dancing.
“Sizwe,” I croak, but my head seems to be emptying out, all thoughts draining away.
Then there’s nothing, until I wake up to a disinfectant smell. I hurt all over and I have a headache. People come and go, doing things to me.
“Moya, my child?”
“Dad?” He’s standing beside this strange bed I’m in.
“Hospital, right?” I try to say.
“Yes.” Somehow he understands me. “They’re being dealt with, those girls. They…” He swallows. “Your ribs. Concussion. Bad bruising. Moya, my Moya, they could have done worse, killed you – if that boy hadn’t jumped off the train and pulled them off you. Your mother says you’re never to call him a stupid boy again, Moya.”
“Sizwe?” I whisper. “Is he … is he…?”
The thought of him jumping off the train as it picked up speed makes my skin prickle.
“Scraped skin is all.” Dad knows what I’m asking. “He’s tough, that one. I will never be able to repay him for what he did, but I want to help him. Not a hand-out to insult him, but helping him get a job with training somewhere, so he can earn and learn … Moya, the hospital, they say they’re overcrowded and they need your bed, so I must take you home.”
“Home’s best,” I whisper, accepting that this is also my home now – Soweto, together with Umjindi.
“I told your Sizwe he can come and see you at home,” Dad says.
I sleep a lot when I get home, two days of sleep. I eat a lot too, sweet creamy porridge or juicy chicken. Nomi visits me on the second day. She’s a bit more friendly than usual. She says, “So hey, how about what Sizwe did?”
“I know!” I’m all in a mess, proud but unhappy at the same time. “He’s saved me twice now, but when I think of him on the trains … I don’t need that in my life.”
I’m stiff and sore, but I make myself move around. The third evening I’m in the living area helping Ma sort through old sewing patterns. When there’s a knock on the street-side door, she answers it and comes back to tell me, “Sizwe Sekota for you, Moya. I’ll make tea.”
A big jump of good feeling behind my hurt ribs. I look at him. The serious crease is there between his eyebrows.
“Hey,” I say. “Twice you’ve saved me now.”
He takes no notice. He says, “I have to tell you something. When I saw it was you on the ground with those girls attacking you like that … I was afraid. I mean, I knew what it was like, that thing you said about being afraid. After you saw me on the train. So I won’t do it anymore. Surf. I don’t want you … I mean, I don’t want someone, anyone, to be afraid for me like that. The way I was afraid for you. That’s all.”
The good feeling gets bigger, and I can’t stop smiling even though it hurts my injured face.
“It’s enough.” Big eye-meet between us, full of something that might be promises, I don’t really know. “My mother will be upset if you don’t stay for some tea. Come sit.”
A smile starts on his face, a real one, something I’ve hardly ever seen from him. It’s good to see.
Instead of heading for a chair, he comes towards where I’m resting on the couch, and he holds out his hands. I lift mine and put them in his. I feel his warmth and strength. In another moment he kneels down beside the couch.
“You look sore?” He says it like a question.
“Not too sore,” I answer his question.
We lean in towards each other. It will be our first kiss.
I know nothing will be easy, but it’s weird how a bad thing happening can sometimes make everything better.
Tell us what you think: Is Moya being unromantic or just realistic when she says nothing will be easy? Can she and Sizwe make it as a couple?